#WomanCentered: MARIA LOBATO

#WomanCentered is an independent project by conceptual artist and community organizer, Natasha Marin. Inspired by Women at the Center, a project created with support from the United Nations Foundation Universal Access Project. This series of interviews seeks to tell the inspiring, interconnected stories of women’s reproductive health, rights, and empowerment.

Maria Lobato of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

How has having or not having children affected the overall trajectory of your life?

I haven’t thought about having children yet. The time has not come. But I sort of feel the clock is running, I somehow dream about being a mother without having really figured out how much gender roles are influencing this dream, and how much of my own desire it is.

Do you feel pressure to fulfill an idea of womanhood that may/may not correspond to who you actually are? If so, please describe.

I personally don’t at the moment, but I really struggled with this while growing up! I was thought that I should be ‘beautiful’ and that I had potential for that.

But I needed to be thin. That was the start of a decade of eating disorders. A whole decade of me despising my own body and wanting to be someone else, in order to please society and be attractive to men. I do not care about this anymore. It was a slow, gradual process and acknowledging myself as a feminist was fundamental in understanding how gender roles shape us as women and make decisions for us. For example, now I do what I want. I sit with my legs open because it is more comfortable. I do not wax. I do not own a bra. I do not care if my outfit shows the belly of an unfit body. In fact, sometimes my belly makes me feel sexy.

Do you have advice for other women regarding birth control methods that worked well or didn’t work well for you?

Since my circulatory system is a bit slack, I should avoid taking pills. Plus, I have not had a stable partner for the last 3 years. So for most of life, I have mainly relied on condoms. If used correctly, it is perfectly safe. This is what you should use if you are having casual sex, as it protects you from STDs

In 2016, openly discussing one’s reproductive choices is still considered taboo, why do you suppose more women aren’t having these conversations?

Women’s reproductive choices have been controlled by the state for millennia. The Roman Empire needed to increase the population and they decided to take Sabin women as wives and forcibly impregnate them. There is evidence that it happened during the Peloponessian war when Athens attacked Melos, killed the men and assimilated women into sexual slavery and forced pregnancy. These stories are often taught without a particular focus on how women’s sexual reproductive rights have been neglected.

In Cambodia, it was not until quite recently that civil society and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal acknowledged that sexual and gender-based violence took place during the Khmer Rouge regime. Men and women were forcibly married and compelled by force to consummate these marriages. But civil society and the court seem to have forgotten that for some women, forced marriage and rape and often pregnancy were a violation of women’s reproductive rights. It is only now that the topic seems to be gaining certain momentum.

Where are you on the continuum of self-love? On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being Kanye West), how much do you love yourself and how do you reinforce and/or improve this?

It varies. I am a very emotional person as sometimes my self-love might be affected by other people’s emotions. And maybe by Patriarchy as well?

If you could go back in time and give your younger self some vital information or critical education about your body, your overall wellness, or your reproductive health, what your advice be?

Love your body the way it is. It is beautiful. It does not need to change.

Maria Lobato is a lover of music, travel, dance, and adventure. She works as a Legal Advisor in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.